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MLB let the Astros off the hook for cheating ... for now

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MLB considers the matter closed mostly because it’s the postseason, but this might not be the end of the Astros spying saga.

Baltimore Orioles v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Major League Baseball has seemingly bought the Astros’ excuse that they weren’t cheating or spying on the Red Sox (or the Indians, or the Atheltics, or ... well, you get the picture) but were instead just making sure that no one was spying on them. You know, by spying. The reality of the situation is that MLB has been embarrassed by Houston, the defending champions and one of the two teams in the 2018 American League Championship Series, and the decision was based largely on wanting to sweep all of this under the rug while fans are watching.

The thing is, Houston’s punishment might just be delayed, if what Alex Speier reported is any indication:

According to an industry source, the investigation into the specific behavior of the individual at Fenway Park was indeed closed from a fact-finding standpoint. But the Commissioner’s Office still could punish the Astros for the inappropriate use of video equipment. Such a determination, however, likely wouldn’t come before the offseason.

While any punishment remains uncertain, there is no doubt that the subject of teams’ use of technology for inappropriate purposes — whether sign-stealing, swiping scouting reports, or other applications — will be a topic of conversation at the GM meetings and in the Commissioner’s Office this winter.

Red Sox executive Dave Dombrowski is upset, which you can read about in Speier’s report, but it’s not just Boston that’s angry about MLB’s lack of present-day action: Buster Olney tweeted that officials across the game are “frustrated, appalled” by MLB’s decision to wave this away for now. That internal pressure from across the league will likely result in an eventual punishment for Houston ... just not while they’re in the middle of the ALCS, where fans and media can begin to question how much their little spying game might have influenced, say, the 2017 World Series, when Yu Darvish sure seemed impossibly hittable and predictable.

The anger across the league also isn’t new. According to Scott Miller at Bleacher Report, multiple teams warned the Indians about the Astros’ counterintelligence program before the ALDS. MLB teams don’t share anything with each other unless they can get something out of it, and here the “something out of it” was a chance to stick it to the Astros, a team that has ruffled more than a feather or two with its shady actions over the years.

Miller actually writes that this spygate incident is just the “tip of the iceberg” on Houston’s behavior. Try this bit on for size:

There have also been whispers throughout the industry that the Astros are not calibrating their TrackMan (a ball-tracking date system) properly throughout their system, particularly at the minor league levels, which according to another industry source, can make it appear as if a particular pitcher’s spin rate is too high or too low.

”The counter to that is, you can check Justin Verlander’s spin rate at AT&T Park and CitiField and so on to at least have a checks-and-balance system,” the source says. “But say you’re in trade talks and you want to check a particular minor league pitcher, and they bump up the spin rate of a guy when he’s pitching. Maybe you do this on mid-level prospects, and someone goes, ‘Wow, this guy is only throwing 90 or 91 MPH, but it’s a high-spin fastball.’

”Then you get him, and you’re like, ‘Hmmm, why doesn’t his fastball spin like we thought?’ That was going around the industry earlier in the year. And when you add it to the whole pie, it’s certainly plausible. MLB is going to have to take over oversight of TrackMan systems [and other areas].”

Does that sound like the behavior of a team that’s just making sure other teams aren’t cheating? It sounds more like a team that knows exactly how they operate, and want to make sure they’re always one step ahead of anyone as ruthless and feckless as they are.

Now, the Astros are not the only team that cheats, as I wrote yesterday. This is a league-wide issue, and Houston’s paranoia is not 100 percent attributable to their own awful behavior. They’re clearly ahead of the awfulness curve, however, and might have pushed things just a little too far. We’ll know for sure following this offseason’s various meetings, where Rob Manfred and Co. might be a little less forgiving than they are today, whether because they want to be or because the rest of the league forces the issue.